Autumn Maintenance for Wildflower Meadows

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Just like a grass lawn, the maintenance work you do in your wildflower meadow during late summer and autumn will play a big part in how it looks next summer.

There are 5 objectives to meadow maintenance and autumn jobs work towards all of them.

The 5 objectives for meadow maintenance

  • Reduce soil fertility
  • Suppress the grasses
  • Conserve the wild flowers
  • Control and discourage unwanted plants
  • Encourage a wider range of species

Wildflower meadow maintenance jobs for autumn

Mowing

If you haven’t already cut your meadow down, it’s imperative that you do so as soon as possible.  Cut off all of the top growth leaving just leafs and stems around 10cm (4 inches high).  Remove all of them and rake the area thoroughly.

gentleman using a scythe to cut down wildflower meadow

A scythe is the very best tool for mowing wild flower meadows.  It gives a clean cut and leaves you with nice long clippings that are easy to collect.  A strimmer tends to bash the vegetation and spray tiny pieces of green stuff hither and thither - which is not good if you're trying to reduce soil fertility.

By taking away dead vegetation you are breaking nature’s cycle of returning nutrients to the soil.

Remember- wild flowers aren’t like the garden flowers we’re used to.  They like to be kept hungry and simply don’t thrive in nutrient rich soils. Over time, by mowing and removing clippings you will reduce soil fertility down to the levels they like.

Grasses on the other hand, can become rampant in rich soil.  Reduce the soil fertility and you’ll weaken the grasses.

Weeding

Did you spot any imposters over the summer?  Most garden weeds are beautiful wild flowers in their own right but things like dock, nettle, ground elder and dandelions are not particularly desirable in a wildflower meadow. 

Either dig them out or spot treat them with glyphosate while the weather is warm enough for the herbicide to work.

Sowing

Now is the time to sow yellow rattle seeds to help suppress the grasses.  Yellow rattle is a parasitic plant that feeds on grass, weakening the plant and allowing wild flowers to thrive.

hay rattle aka yellow rattle

Hay rattle, sometimes called Yellow rattle.  A great plant for supressing grasses the natural way.  Fresh seed must be sown in autumn time.

Rake all debris out of the bottom of the meadow sward and sprinkle seed thinly where you want it to grow.  Do not cover the seed – it needs light to germinate.

You could also try sowing cornfield annuals such as corn marigold, cornflower and common poppy for some bright colours next summer.

Plugplanting

Encourage a wider range of species by introducing new plants to your meadow.  Autumn is the best time to do this.

I recommend buying plants from British Wild Flower Plants in Norfolk.  They’re superb quality and Linda and her team give expert advice.

Once they’re planted, make sure you water them well and don’t let them get overwhelmed by the grasses etc that are already growing in your meadow.

Spring flowering bulbs

I’m a sucker for spring flowering bulbs.  Snowdrops, crocus, bluebells – I love them all.   Under-planting your wildflower meadow with bulbs will extend the flowering period by a good 2 months.  And autumn is the time to do it.

snowdrops naturalised in meadow setting

Naturalising spring flowering bulbs like these snowdrops will extend the flowering time of your wildflower meadow by 2-3 months.

For a naturalised look, throw the bulbs randomly onto the surface and plant them where they land.  You’ll love the resulting floral display and so will early flying bumblebees.

Help for overwintering creatures

You can finish off your winter maintenance by adding bugboxes and/or hedgehog houses to encourage wildlife to hibernate in and around your wildflower area.  Then you can be truly proud of the way you are helping to conserve so many species.

More information on wildflower meadow maintenance

 

Autumn wildflower meadow maintenance


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